Phoenix Challenge College Competition-Winning University of Wisconsin-Stout Chronicles Bakery Rebrand & Packaging Pieces

The time it takes to make most sweets—custards, cookies, candies and all types of confectionary concoction—can be measured in hours and minutes.

For the five students on the University of Wisconsin-Stout’s 2019 Phoenix Challenge College Competition team, the timer on their oven stretched into days, weeks and months. For most of the 2018-2019 school year, they worked with a local bakery to create a series of flexographically printed packages, balancing brand owner desires, abiding by real-world constraints and overcoming print-related obstacles.

Top, from left: UW-Stout 2019 Phoenix Challenge College Competition team members Bridget Johnson, Mia Bartel, (bottom, from left) Abbegail Lee, Janessa Gould and Matthew Smith pose moments after their presentation to judges in Baton Rouge, LA.
All photos courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Stout Phoenix Challenge College Competition team

When the timer went off and their work was ready for sampling, Competition judges liked what they tasted, awarding the school the top prize of Overall Excellence. Here is the story behind the team’s journey.

The Participants

Each of the five students on the UW-Stout team was responsible for a specific part of the overall project. The team members and their roles were:

  • Bridget Johnson, project manager
  • Mia Bartel, lead designer
  • Abbegail Lee, technical coordinator
  • Janessa Gould, marketing coordinator
  • Matt Smith, research specialist

Overseeing the team were Dr. Shaun Dudek, UW-Stout graphic communications program director, and Chad Nyseth, the school’s graphic communications instruction specialist.

The Project

The challenge posed to all teams competing in the College Competition sounded equal parts enticing and intimidating: Rebrand a company through flexographic printing. The group from UW-Stout found their partner company in Elk Lake Bakery.

After discussing with business owner Kim Friberg her specific needs, the team formed its re-branding and packaging strategy:

  • Create a new logo
  • Design and print a heat-seal laminate pouch to be used for a soon-to-launch new product
  • Design and print a pressure-sensitive label for plastic clamshell containers
  • Design and print a paper bag for individual pastries

“When I saw the scope of the project that the team was expected to complete and the goals the team members had set for themselves, I’ll admit that I was a bit taken aback and wondering how everything would get done,” Nyseth confessed. “For the team members, the work involved—all completed outside of, and in addition to, their regular coursework—was like having an additional three-credit course.”

“Hearing our school name announced at the Awards Banquet is something that I will never forget.”

Abbegail Lee, technical coordinator for the UW-Stout’s 2019 Phoenix Challenge College Competition team

The Process

The team began by redesigning Elk Lake Bakery’s logo—an off-angle barn with a baking tray and pie sliding out from one side, and the business’ name on the other. In thumbnail sketches, they experimented with variations on the barn’s depiction as well as different imagery relevant to baking, including a chef’s hat and rolling pin. Ultimately, the rolling pin image became the focal point of the new logo; a different sans-serif font and shade of red rounded out the redesign.

After bringing the new logo to a farmers’ market to gather customer feedback, they adjusted the shade of red to Pantone 186c, elongated the rolling pin’s handles and tweaked the font’s kerning. Lastly, they added the bakery’s year of opening (2017) and the phrase “Made in Wisconsin.” “We had a remarkable response of 95 percent of participants who felt it was important to support a local business,” the team said of its market research results. “It affirmed that we needed to keep the ‘Made in Wisconsin’ feature on our label because it was attractive to our target market.”

Working with Kim was an enjoyable experience, according to Lee, because “she supported our creativity along the way, especially when creating the laminate pouch for her new custard product.”

With a new logo agreed upon, the team turned attention to the three pieces of packaging that would make use of it. The biggest challenge, Lee explained, was to create some sort of container for the bakery’s frozen cookie custard sandwich, debuting that summer. “After lots of collaboration with both Kim and the team at Taylor Communications (Stephen Clydesdale, Wayne Nicoloff, Tony Smith and others), we agreed to create a heat-seal laminate pouch for the frozen treat,” she said.

Clockwise from top left: Plastic clamshell label, paper pastry bag, custard cookie heat-seal laminate pouch.

The pressure-sensitive label was born from the idea of improving on the bakery’s existing—but brand-less—clamshell containers, rather than replacing them. That idea carried over to the paper bag—another existing packaging piece devoid of branding—and here, the team standardized the use of multiple sizes into one larger and flatter option.

“Many times throughout the months of work, I wanted to give my larger opinions,” Dudek said of his oversight during the project’s planning. Confident in the team’s abilities and past experience in the College Competition—with three team members having participated in the 2018 Competition—he kept his comments to himself. “They knew the standard of excellence required to win, and used resources available via LinkedIn, the Twin Cities Flexo Association (TCFA), members of our graphic communications Advisory Committee and faculty, other UW-Stout faculty, and industry connections they’d made during their internships and cooperative-education experiences.”